Indic Loans in Chinese

These five examples are from Zhu Qingzhi, Some Linguistic Evidence for Early Chinese Cultural Exchange Between India and China (SPP #66, 1995), which may be obtained from SPP. A few other possibilities will be added from other sources. Except in one case ("water in hoofprint," which he feels must have originated on the Indian end, Zhu makes no decisions about directionality, and is content to observe that the pairs are very likely related. The Project's revised dates for the Chinese texts seem to clarify the situation, and to support his one India > China conclusion. Given the chronology of the first appearances in China, the directionality seems invariably to be India > China. In support of this, it seems that in most cases, the Indic usage is more widespread and more connected, within its own language, than the corresponding but more isolated Chinese one, and thus is more likely to be the "natural" or original form. All are loan translations rather than phonetic loanwords. The period of word adaptation, complete with the original sound of the word, was to come substantially later, with the direct presence of Indian persons and institutions on Chinese soil, which occurred only in the Latter Han (1st and 2nd centuries AD).

Arrangement here is by the probable date of the first Chinese occurrence.

NAMELESS FINGER. The primary term used in both Sanskrit and Chinese for the fourth finger.

RABBIT = MOON. Supposedly based on a figure discerned in the markings on the moon.

WATER IN HOOFPRINT as a symbol for shallowness and limitation.

THE PLANET VENUS described as "white."


Zhu's study is not without its limitations. One is ignorance of the chronology on the Chinese side, which we have here tried to supply. A few further points:

Further examples, or comments on these examples, from either side of the Himalayas, are welcome.

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22 Jan 2001 / Contact The Project / Exit to Resources Page